CKY Market Review: The ‘crown jewel of projects’

Completion of City Center, renovation of convention center revitalize downtown Lexington

By Kathie Stamps and Lorie Hailey

Construction of the long-awaited City Center wrapped up in 2019.

It’s been an exciting year for real estate and construction projects in Central Kentucky, and no project has been more highly anticipated than the completion of the $220 million City Center, an 800,000-s.f. mixed-use development in the middle of downtown Lexington.

City Center is the “crown jewel” of all of the projects The Webb Companies has worked on, said Chairman Dudley Webb. That’s quite a statement, given that The Webb Companies is one Central Kentucky’s oldest and largest commercial real estate developers.

“This $220 million mixed-use development is the largest and finest private project ever undertaken in Kentucky and will be an absolute game changer for our region,” Webb said.

More than a decade after construction began on the project, formerly called CenterPointe, the first tenants opened for business in City Center – Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse and Starbucks opened in April 2019; Keeneland Mercantile was third in line. In May, Lexington law firm Dinsmore moved from Lexington Financial Center to City Center, making it the first anchor business tenant in the new 12-story tower.

The development includes two hotels – Lexington Marriott City Center and Residence Inn City Center – that are scheduled to open in the spring of 2020. Combined, the hotels offer 336 guest rooms. The hotels will share some amenities, including a state-of-the-art fitness center, a virtual fitness studio, and over 10,000 s.f. of flexible Next Gen Meeting Space. Guests from each hotel will also have access to the rooftop pool and sky bar above the Residence Inn.

City Center also has a three-story, 700-space underground parking garage, more than 150,000 s.f. of rentable office space in the 12-story tower, and three levels of luxury condominium residences above the office space.

With The Webb Companies and Greer Companies as developers, and D.W. Wilburn Construction as the general contractor, plus numerous local subcontractors, the sleek and modern City Center is the hallmark of real estate and construction projects in Central Kentucky.

“We think City Center is going to be the new heartbeat for our downtown, bring more excitement, bring more people downtown,” project coordinator Ralph Coldiron said.


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At night, the development lights up the sky in an array of colors. City Center was one of the first buildings to participate in LexLights, a Downtown Lexington Partnership initiative to illuminate downtown Lexington to add ambiance, create art and festive lighting projects, and discourage crime. About 20 buildings and parks have added new lighting or upgraded existing light as part of LexLights.

Grocery store, new convention center among downtown projects

In the spring of 2020, a new three-story development will greet drivers as they come into Lexington from Winchester Road. Named after its location at the corner of Midland and East Third, The MET is a $22 million, 75,000-s.f. mixed-use facility that will include a much-needed grocery store and other retail space, as well as 44 loft apartments. The EOP Architects-designed project, being developed by Community Ventures Corp., will also bring jobs to the East End.

“The East End neighborhood has a long, rich history of tradition and culture, and Community Ventures remains committed to continue its revitalization efforts by increasing wealth-building opportunities through homeownership, but also through its job creation,” said Community Ventures on its website.

The MET property is across the street from the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden, one of three trailheads for the 12-mile Legacy Trail that leads to the Kentucky Horse Park. The MET will also be in the heart of Town Branch Commons, a public-private partnership that will provide a 22-mile system of paths for pedestrians and bicyclists connecting to Town Branch Trail and the Legacy Trail.

Part of the Town Branch Commons project will be the “Cat Walk” and “The Gorge” as public gathering spots interwoven throughout the new Lexington Convention Center. When the $300 million replacement and expansion of convention center is complete in the spring of 2022, it will represent the single largest capital public improvement project in the city’s history, building and renovating more than 700,000 s.f. of space.

Phase 1 of the Lexington Convention Center project is on track, with the new 100,000-s.f. exhibit hall set to open during fourth quarter of 2020. Plans were made in three phases so that the convention center and Rupp Arena can remain open during construction periods. Some of the seats in the upper arena of Rupp are being converted to chairbacks, in time for the 2019-20 University of Kentucky basketball season.

Upon completion of the entire renovation, there will be an all-new exterior on Rupp Arena and enlarged concourses, as well as new spaces at Lexington Center, including a new 25,000-s.f. ballroom; 26,000 s.f. of new meeting spaces; 57,500 s.f. of hospitality space; and the new exhibit hall.

The future Town Branch Park, also part of Town Branch Commons, will be on a 10-acre site adjacent to the expanded Rupp Arena and Lexington Convention Center. When completed in 2025, it will contain green space, water features, a dog park and a Great Lawn area that will be anchored by a performance amphitheater with space to host up to 5,000 patrons.

Townhome community in the Distillery District

In the summer of 2019, a new residential community called Distillery Heights opened in the city’s popular Distillery District. The community is the district’s first infill residential development, featuring 34 three-story townhomes situated on just under two acres of land at the corner of Oliver Lewis Way and Manchester Street.

Developed by owners Jo Gawthrop and Melia Hord, who also are the real estate agents listing the townhomes through Keller Williams Bluegrass, the first of four buildings opened in April 2019. The starting price for the townhomes is $324,000.

The upscale townhome units are across the street from Town Branch Distillery, and will overlook the future Town Branch City Park. When the residential complex is completed, the community will be gated with green space.

The Distillery District is a popular area of downtown Lexington with many ongoing development projects.

“It’s an exciting time to be in our neighborhood as we watch the expansion of new businesses open in the Pepper Distillery down the street, the IMAX theater erecting on High and Broadway, the Town Branch Distillery conducting public tours and receptions across the street,” Gawthrop said. “[There’s also] Manchester Music Hall and The Burl bringing in top artists for concerts at our entrance, phase one of the Convention Center underway a block away, and the buzz of the Manchester Marketplace and our future Town Branch Park and Trail coming next.”

New commercial projects in all areas of the city

Origin Lexington, a new 76,000-s.f. hotel with 120 guest rooms opened in mid-July at The Summit at Fritz Farm, a 1 million-s.f. mixed-use development at the corner of Nicholasville Road and Man o’ War Boulevard. Origin Lexington is the second hotel of the Origin Hotel Collection, which was developed, designed and built by the Thrash Group, based in Hattiesburg, Miss. UK alumnus Michael Russell is general manager for the Lexington hotel.

Founded as Kennedy Book Store in 1950, the Kennedy’s Wildcat Den was razed in April. The property on South Limestone at Avenue of Champions also housed a Fazoli’s restaurant. Now the University of Kentucky plans to build a six-story parking garage by August 2020. There will be 900 spaces, with office and retail space on the ground floor.

Target opened its first small-format store in Kentucky on South Upper Street next to the University of Kentucky campus. Target has prioritized opening small-format stores to serve guests in areas where a full-size store typically could not fit: near college campuses, in urban areas and dense suburban neighborhoods. The Lexington store has most everything a normal Target has, but in smaller quantities.

Development projects are popping up all over Central Kentucky. The economy is strong and businesses are seeing increased demand, which gives them the confidence to expand their operations, said Linden Long, owner of Long Construction Management, a design-build company in Lexington.

“(We’re) seeing an increase in the opportunities within the manufacturing and distribution industries,” Long said. “We have been very intentional about targeting our marketing and sales effort to those industries in particular, and it seems to be paying off for us.”

The construction company recently completed two new hangars for Blue Grass Airport in Lexington and is currently constructing a 77,700-s.f. addition to an existing building for Fisher Auto Parts in Walton, Ky., and a 50,000-s.f. coal refinery building in Corbin, Ky.

Manufacturing companies, along with service and technology service firms, have announced significant investments in Central Kentucky in the past couple of years. In the first eight months of 2019, 23 companies announced projects here, investing nearly $488 million and creating more than 1,300 jobs. Eighty-two projects were announced in 2018; the reported capital investment was nearly $397 million and 2,244 jobs were created.

Healthy home sales market

Home sales in Central Kentucky were strong in the first seven months of 2019, and houses coming on the market sold at an extremely fast pace when priced correctly, said Al Blevins, president of the Lexington-Bluegrass Association of Realtors (LBAR), which has 3,200 members in 26 counties. The quick pace of sales has resulted in lower inventory levels, however.

For the first six months of 2019, home sales were up 4% over the same time period last year and involved a total of 8,055 transactions, according to LBAR. By May, four consecutive months had seen an increase in total home sales year over year, with May being the highest, a 10% increase. After a dip in June, July saw an 8% increase in single-family home sales and a 13% increase for condos and townhomes from 2018. Houses in the price range of $140,000 to $159,999 were at a 1.5-month inventory.

At the end of July, the total volume for LBAR reported homes sold reached just over $1.6 billion.

Lexington’s low business costs and high quality of life attract businesses and individuals alike. National publications agree: WalletHub named Lexington the No. 4 best city for first-time homebuyers in 2019; U.S. News and World Report ranked Lexington as the 29th best place to live in the United States.

“Whether renting or purchasing a home, your dollar will go further in Lexington than in most other towns,” U.S. News said.

Linden Long, Owner/Member

Long Construction Management

P.O. Box 910865

Lexington, KY 40591

longconstructionmgt.com

(859) 523-9407

Long Construction Management offers design/build, construction management and general contracting. With experience in complex, multimillion dollar projects, a commitment to the values of workmanship, stability and integrity, the company has developed a solid track record with our clients. There are many options to consider and decisions to make as you plan your new construction project. All will impact the appearance, functionality, and longevity of your new or expanding building. And since LCM is also a Butler Builder®, the company can offer even more options to help meet your project needs.  Take a closer look and you’ll see that Long Construction Management is the right company for your next construction project.

Aric Andrew, AIA, LEED AP, President and CEO

Luckett & Farley

737 S. Third St.

Louisville, KY 40202

(502) 585-4181

Luckett-farley.com

President and CEO Aric Andrew has infused his passion for design excellence and innovative thinking into Luckett & Farley, the oldest continuously operating architectural firm in the country.

Andrew has over a quarter century of architectural and project management experience. A graduate of the University of Kentucky College of Architecture, Andrew has led the firm’s transformation with a new, unique “studio” model and renovated new headquarters.

 Its studio approach integrates architecture, interior design and engineering in five different industries – industrial, corporate commercial and hospitality, higher education, government and distilled spirits.

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